Taking the Bus - Panama: It is easier than you think!
From the Coronado Area to Panama City
You can catch all city-bound buses in front of the Super 99 plaza in Coronado in a little bus stop. 99% of the buses that stop there are going to Panama City. This includes both the 30-seat white coaster buses and the larger coach buses. The guy standing in the door of the bus is referred to as “Pavo” in Panama. He will ask where are you going and will confirm the bus is going to “Panama”. All Panama buses go to the Albrook Mall Bus Terminal. Some buses take a loop into Chorrera. If you are pressed for time then ask the Pavo “Directo a Panama, sí?” He will confirm if they are going straight to the city or doing a loop into Chorrera.
Board the bus and find a seat. Once the seats on the bus are filled, the bus will not stop to pick up more passengers. You may not be asked for your money until the bus is over The Bridge of the Americas. At that time, the Pavo will come around and ask you for your $3 (or sometimes $2.50 or $2.75). He has a good memory and will remember where you got on the bus. If for some reason he does not remember you he will ask ¿De dónde vienes? That means “where did you come from” in Spanish – You have to answer the name of the place you boarded the bus, in this case “Coronado”.
Once at the Terminal at Albrook, you can grab a taxi to your destination or proceed into the mall to do your shopping.
Note: If you live in San Carlos or Chame or in between, like I do, you can still catch the bus on the highway. I stand on the highway at the entrance of Costa Esmeralda and put my hand out as the bus is approaching–if they have room, they will stop.
From Panama City to the Coronado Area
Get back to the terminal via the doors outside of El Costo or down by the Cinemas in the Albrook Mall. You can take the foot bridge which is located upstairs from the Food Court.
If you think you are going to be a frequent bus user, obtain a RapidPass Card so that you can get out on the platform where the buses are waiting without having to explain to the platform lady that you are only a tourist before poking through your pockets to find the five cents required to pass through. The RapidPass is obtained at the RapidPass kiosks. Put $1 on the card and that will take care of your entrance to and from the platforms for a long time. If you are a very occasional bus user then just hand the platform lady her five cents and have her let you through the turnstiles.
Before getting to the platforms, you have to go and buy your ticket at the kiosk that says Chame, San Carlos or Anton (If you have your doubts, do not hesitate to ask help to somebody, there is always somebody that can speak English).
The price will be $2.50 -$3.00 depending on the destination of the bus you board. The ticket that they give you will have a written number on it, whichindicates which bus to board, those buses have their number in the front in most of the cases.
Go through the turnstiles, go to your left hand and look for the names in the front window, when you find the one that you selected to board look for the number, to be sure that it is bus that you selected, if you are unsure, ask one of the drivers standing in front of the bus.
Board the bus. Take out your book and enjoy the ride to the beach. The Pavo most of the times will yell out the stops before you get to your destination. When you are disembarking you hand the Pavo your ticket.
Tips and Etiquette
All Panamanian Bus Travelers will be wearing long pants or a skirt or a dress. You will never see anyone on board with shorts unless they are a foreigner. You can wear whatever you want; this is simply an observation that I have made and have been told is part of the culture when traveling anywhere in Panama.
When the passengers board the bus, most will address the whole bus with a “Buenas” or “Buenos Dias”.
Most of the long haul passengers will fall asleep so watch out for a snoozing head hitting your shoulder.
The A/C will be cold and the music will often be a little loud. Bring a long-sleeved something if you are sensitive to the chill.
Keep your hands on your purse and items at all times. If you have too many bags, store them under the bus rather than under someone’s seat.